The Killing Fields
Trip Start Nov 24, 2008
98Trip End Oct 21, 2009
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Where I stayed
Unlike Thailand, Cambodia doesn't really have a stable currency. There is a set rate of 4000 Cambodian Riels to the US Dollar (Regardless of what online conversion rates quote?). Almost every thing that costs more than a 4000 Riel is priced in Dollars. So even though Cambodia is one the most poorest countries in South East Asia it ends up being one of the most expensive for tourists because everything is rounded up to the nearest dollar. Even ATM's dispense US dollars so I have now idea where the Riel's come from?
Phnom Penh is an interesting city. Kind of similar to Saigon but slightly less crazy traffic, just SLIGHTLY though! Because we only had one full day to spend there we discussed with Jambo (Our Tuk-Tuk driver) what was the best stuff to go see and in what order. After our brainstorming session we had agreed to go the shooting range and then do all the serious stuff that covers the genocide.
Because Rachel hadn't got a chance to fire a gun in Vietnam it was decided that we would go to the shooting range here in Cambodia. It was a long drive from the city center to the shooting range on the outskirts of the city so by the time we got there Rachel was all eager to get going. The guy brought us out a menu of guns we could fire and their respective prices. After some consultation with the guy in charge he recommended the MP5 sub-machine gun for Rachel (Favoured by US special forces apparently?) and the M1 for me (An old World War 2 rifle). Rach got firing and soon enough it became clear why he selected that gun for her, it had a very light recoil and was pretty easy to fire. I then had a go with my M1, not as powerful as the Ak47 but pretty heavy and had a bit of kick to it. So all the gun firing out of our system we headed off in the direction of the Killing Fields.
Jambo was right in bringing us to the shooting range first because the Killing Fields are a pretty depressing and somber experience and shooting a gun is the last thing you would want to do after seeing what we saw later in the day. The story if you don't already know is that during the 70's a guy name Pol Pot came to power and decided to turn Cambodia into an Agrarian society (Everyone lives off the land basically). He declared year zero and decided to round up anyone who opposed him or even anyone suspected of imposing the regime. Even Doctors, Engineers, Teachers and basically anyone with an education were rounded up. So all these people were interrogated, tortured and eventually killed and buried in pits all around the country side. By the time his regime had collapsed in the late 70's between one and three million Cambodians had been killed in the Genocide.
About 20km outside the city there is a memorial garden where a particularly high amount of burial pits were found by a UN team in the early 90's. People were driven there by the truckload and then executed. The site is dominated by a tall white hollow obelisk that commemorates all those who died from 1975 to 1979, displaying thousands of unearthed skulls on glass shelves. Its a fairly big site with various boards describing what certain areas were used for and the likes. As we walked around I suddenly realised that the ground we were walking on wasn't actually covered in pebbles as I presumed but was in fact little bone fragments everywhere.
So after that thoroughly sobering experience we headed back into the city with Jambo where he took us to a museum called Toul Sleng. It was were the people suspected of opposing the regime were brought to be interrogated and tortured before being brought out to the Killing Fields. Again it was a very sad place where we learned even children were brought to be held in terrifying conditions. We spent a good few hours there looking around the many displays. After that we decided to call it a day and got Jambo to bring us back to the guesthouse.
That night we took a tuk-tuk down to the waterfront where all the lively bars are. It ended up being not so lively at all and we made our way back home after a few beers in a place called the Foreign Correspondents Club. The next morning we were up early again to catch the bus to Siem Reap in North-Western Cambodia. The Angkor Wat temples we had heard so much about were calling us and we just had to go!
We have loads of photos to post for this entry and the last one but haven't been able to find a decent internet connection, we'll get them posted eventually!